Ghost Throats DIY Festival hits Calgary
Distorted and screamy as it may be Ghost Throats this week’s all-day festival stretching between Broken City and Undermountain ain’t your average hardcore festival. Sure its bands are plenty aggressive — but instead of relying on chest-puffing machismo the lineup takes stylistic cues from D.C.’s Revolution Summer era Level Plane records and second-gen emo. It’s built around DIY ethics not Eastpak sponsorships. And more than a few attendees it stands to reason could easily recite Indian Summer’s discography in its entirety. Fewer we’d guess could care less about Terror’s oeuvre.
No it’s not exactly the This Is Hardcore fest. Rather its concept says festival co-founder Andrew Benson was born from simple self-promotion.
“The main inspiration came from Cecil [Frena now of Born Gold] Graham [Nichol co-founder] and myself trying to find a way for our band at the time Gift Eaters to play festivals in Europe. We hadn’t built up our reputation yet and we really wanted to showcase ourselves and our friends’ amazing bands” says Benson. “Thus Ghost Throats was born.”
Benson likely didn’t realize the extent it would grow in four years. It started in Edmonton for example and has now expanded to Calgary largely due to the help of new organizer and Cowtown local Kevin Stebner. It still promotes plenty of homegrown acts such as Edmonton skramz powerhouses Todos Caerán and the Cap’n Jazz-loving Minuet but has now attracted national acts like Quebec’s La Maladresse and Toronto’s Bandera. But for his festival’s growth Benson still says Alberta’s scene is better recognized internationally than at home. “Bands like Todos Caerán Mahria and Coalspur get lots of international blog coverage but they’re definitely not big bands within their own city” he says. “But the idea to highlight post-hardcore was a given because it’s the music we love and play.”
Still the festival didn’t come without challenges. Benson readily admits he’s had countless sleepless nights organizing the fest and this year’s last-minute cancellations of Damages Lovers Mouse Ear and Roanoke didn’t ease the stress. But the show must go on: Ghost Throats responded by convincing long-disbanded Saskatoon act Black Magic Pyramid to perform in Edmonton and Calgary (a band that Benson quips “legitimately scares me every time I see them”) while Cold Craving has also been added to Ghost Throats’ Calgary iteration. “All the stress and sleepless nights are worth it” adds Benson. “Seeing some of your favourite bands and best friends play is a great feeling.”
As is helming a festival that’s contributing to Alberta’s growing DIY reputation. Like Choose Yer Own Fest and last year’s hugely popular Wyrd Fest Ghost Throats’ ongoing success indicates that Alberta has the talent and the demand to support grassroots music. “Ghost Throats started first but it’s super inspiring to see the success of Wyrd Fest” says Benson. “Different music different kids but there’s definitely the same attitude behind [both festivals]…. It shows the power of our scene and this province’s thirst for meaningful honest music.”
As with any festival championing collectivity over star power it can be difficult to find an entry point into Ghost Throats’ screamy dirge-y offerings. So we asked co-organizer Kevin Stebner the Bart Records founder who’s also performing at Ghost Throats with Stalwart Sons for three of his must-see picks. Here’s what he told us.
Black Magic Pyramid
Dark and spastic Saskatoon’s Black Magic Pyramid play a brand of crusty hardcore that’s so grimy it’d put The Night Gallery’s washrooms to shame. Long broken up — the band last opened for North of America at 2010’s Sled Island — BMP was easily Stebner’s top festival pick.
“There’s no band like them…. Evan Vrinton is one of my favourite guitarists in Canada” says Stebner. “They played the first Ghost Throats and it was one of the most fiery sets I’ve ever seen. I recall Aaron [Scholz] being hoisted up by the crowd in his weird bicycle shorts looking all dwarven-like carried around the hall for the entire song. It was mayhem.”
Built on a tom- and bass-heavy backbone Toronto’s Bandera brings a southern sensibility to Ghost Throats — think of the bearded anthemic post-hardcore popularized in Louisville and Gainesville.
“[Stalwart Sons] has managed to play with them a lot whenever we make it out east” adds Stebner. “It’s such a luxury to see them. Their new bass player used to play in Japanese Beaver Are Canadian and he’s incredible. So getting a chance to see them with this new lineup will be incredible.”
Their name may conjure visions of frumpy Pinterest addicts (or Etsy spinsters) but Edmonton’s Scrapbooker might be the most explosive band at Ghost Throats. Spastic noisy and jarringly amoral — their song titles include “Yr Family (is My Dinner)” and “Kavorka (Lure of the Animal)” — Stebner calls Scrapbooker “the most dangerous band in Alberta.”
“They don’t run with the hardcore scene in Edmonton” he adds. “A lot of their subject matter is really messed up really challenging to my mindset. They’re really blunt and I can’t tell if they’re satirizing. There’s no admonishment they’re just presenting these voices of horror. But I’m really excited. How much are you really challenged as a listener [any more]? Especially in this day of ‘aggressive’ music so much rides on convention and cliché.”